Way back in June, The Post and Courier's Diane Knich reported that the City of Charleston was working on an economic development plan for the West Ashley area. Knich noted that the city had hired a consultant to perform a "market analysis" that, it was hoped, would be completed by the end of the year.
Considering the fact that the area of study included over 30-square miles, one would be excused if he or she thought the report wouldn't be completed in a mere six months. But much to our surprise, it only took the City of Charleston four months to come up with a plan.
Compare that quick turnaround to other studies covering a far smaller area — like the S.C. Dept. of Transportation's plan concerning a single pedestrian bridge over the Crosstown at a spot where a number of accidents, and at least two fatalities, occurred over the last couple of years. That plan was given a year. Apparently, when the issue is property development and not saving lives, things happen much quicker. But I digress.
The West Ashley Economic Development Strategy is a lush document filled with ideas and words that might make the common person's head swim as they reach for a dictionary, or perhaps, yearn for the days when the people who write these sorts of things actually took the time to think about what they just wrote. For instance, "using online and social media tools" is redundant since "social media" exists "online." And I must confess that I was forced to look up the word "natatorium" and was horrified to learn that there was such a fancy word for, essentially, an indoor swimming pool. One might wonder what the benefits of an indoor swimming pool are for an area that is in a subtropical climate that experiences only the slightest hints of what one might consider autumn or winter, but that point is lost among the other frightening concepts contained in the strategic plan.
And make no mistake, there is a strategy in place here. In an Oct. 12 Post and Courier article, Abigail Darlington begins by saying, "Driving into Mt. Pleasant from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the town immediately gives off the impression of prosperity." One presumes, based on this, that "prosperity" is code for either "hotels" or "TV and gas stations," depending on which exit one takes from the bridge. Certainly, there's nothing like the Ravenel entrance into Mt. Pleasant that's quite like what the City of Charleston's planning department has in mind for West Ashley's "gateways." In fact, one only has to look at Mt. Pleasant's controversial Boulevard Development further up Coleman Boulevard to see what the City of Charleston has planned west of the Ashley.
Despite the promises that the city wishes to "better understand what residents ... consider [West Ashley's] unique attributes," the strategic plan seems to already have a lot of ideas ready to go concerning what can be done to revitalize the area. While the promise to expand the Greenway seems ready-made for the citizens of West Ashley, other parts, such as turning the Citadel Mall area into some sort of pre-fab public space — complete with a "Town Hall" and the aforementioned natatorium — and the desire to turn Sam Rittenberg into a "Main Street," seem a bit odd.
Mainly, it is odd because West Ashley currently has a "main street" of sorts, Avondale, and this area didn't need the apparent help of a study or a plan or anything other than a few small businesses and surrounding residents to improve their part of the world. Avondale is essentially a town in its own right, and it's one that gives an impression, if not of prosperity, then certainly of life and activity.
And while the city's strategic plan talks about wanting to create a "24/7 life to the street" around Citadel Mall, you have to wonder how serious they are about that considering they've spent the last six months trying to quash several hours of "life" on Upper King.
Realizing, perhaps, that growth on the peninsula is a moot point given the reticence of its citizens to build up, Charleston City Council and the Planning Committee have turned their gaze west. And, just like the indigenous people who greeted the conquistadors of the past, the citizens of West Ashley should probably be concerned about what, exactly, that gaze means for them and their future. After all, a telling line in the plan discusses "branding" West Ashley.
I can see the signs now, "West Ashley, the Mt. Pleasant of Charleston."
Residents of West Ashley need to get ahead of this, and they need to get involved in these planning sessions now before their part of town is turned into something that resembles what we have here over on the east side of Charleston's other river.